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Melrose elementary schools not celebrating Halloween in classrooms this year

Elementary schools in Melrose will eschew Halloween celebrations this week in favor of broader, fall-themed activities, saying the shift supports the district’s “mission of equity and inclusion for all students.”

“As a district, we value celebrations and community-building activities that represent many cultures and traditions,” Julie R. Kukenberger, superintendent of the Melrose public schools, said by email Monday. “We are committed to ensuring that all students and staff feel safe, included, and represented in our schools.”

In a letter sent to families on Friday, Kukenberger said school officials had worked to “deemphasize Halloween and shift our focus toward community building through fall celebrations,” over the past several years.


“This past year has shown us how powerful it is when we come together to support one another as one community,” the letter said. “Our shift in focus during the school day does not change any of the city-wide festivities being planned in Melrose.”

The move does not affect citywide Halloween festivities, Kukenberger said.

The district’s decision has drawn a backlash. An online petition headlined “Keep Halloween for our kids” had garnered just over 1,000 signatures as of Monday afternoon.

“Halloween, the term and the celebration, are being removed from the schools in Melrose,” the petition stated. “A holiday and tradition that started out centuries ago has now evolved into a modernized day of fun costumes, creepy decorations and lots of candy.”

But school officials, the petition stated, have “decided that the term and celebration of Halloween in the schools (specifically the elementary schools) is no longer acceptable and non-inclusive. A day that is merely about costumes and fun has turned political.”

Kukenberger said that some schools have planned PTO-sponsored fall festivals and events outside of school hours. During the school day, “representatives from each classroom have been planning fall activities or crafts for the students to do together as a classroom community,” she said.


The schools pride themselves on functioning as “one community, open to all,” she said. “For this to be true, we must live this mantra in all that we do. This includes in-school celebrations.”

In a school committee meeting last November, two members encouraged broader discussions of fall cultural celebrations, including the Harvest Festival and the Day of the Dead, as an opportunity for “students to explore their own social identities and the diversity of our wider community.”

Since Halloween isn’t universally acknowledged due to its pagan origins, supplemental material linked in the members’ presentation argued, its festivities should be looped in with other fall celebrations.

Steve Annear of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondent Andrew Brinker contributed to this report.

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.